This is as far as we can get on the assumption that the scholar and the man of taste are connected by nothing more than a common interest in literature. If this assumption is true, the high percentage of sheer futility in all criticism should be honestly faced, for the percentage can only increase with its bulk, until criticizing becomes, especially for university teachers, merely an automatic method of acquiring merit, like turning a prayer wheel.
—Northrop Frye, ‘Polemical Introduction’
(Anatomy of Criticism, p. 11)1
Your supercilious critics, grammatical triflers, note-makers, curious antiquaries, find out all the ruins of wit, ineptiarum delicias, amongst the rubbish of old writers; Pro stultis habent nisi aliquid sufficiant invenire, quod in aliorum scriptis vertant vitio, all fools with them that cannot find fault; they correct others, and are hot in a cold cause, puzzle themselves to find out how many streets in Rome, houses, gates, towers, Homer’s country, Aeneas’s mother, Niobe’s daughters, an Sappho publica fuerit? ovum prius extiterit an gallina! &c. et alia quæ dediscenda essent scire, si scires, as Seneca holds. What clothes the senators did wear in Rome, what shoes, how they sat, where they went to the close-stool, how many dishes in a mess, what sauce, which for the present for an historian to relate, according to Lodovic. Vives, is very ridiculous, is to them most precious elaborate stuff, they admired for it, and as proud, as triumphant in the meantime for this discovery, as if they had won a city, or conquered a province; as rich as if they had found a mine of gold ore. Quosvis auctores absurdis commentis suis percacant et stercorant, one saith, they bewray and daub a company of books and good authors, with their absurd comments, correctorum sterquilinia Scaliger calls them, and show their wit in censuring others, a company of foolish note-makers, humble-bees, dors, or beetles, inter stercora ut plurimum versantur, they rake over all those rubbish and dunghills, and prefer a manuscript many times before the Gospel itself, Thesaurum criticum, before any treasure, and with their deleaturs, alii legunt sic, meus codex sic habet, with their postremæ editiones, annotations, castigations, &c. make books dear, themselves ridiculous, and do nobody good, yet if any man dare oppose or contradict, they are mad, up in arms on a sudden, how many sheets are written in defence, how bitter invectives, what apologies? Epiphilledes hæ sunt ut meræ, nugæ. But I dare say no more of, for, with, or against them, because I am liable to their lash as well as others.
—Robert Burton, ‘Democritus to the Reader’
(Anatomy of Melancholy, I.113)
- One assumes that he is speaking from a position of tenure, of course. [↩]